It could be one of a handful moved out of the county
By Austin Sanders, 11:25AM, Thu. Jun. 8, 2023
The Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center on May 23, the second day of jury selection in Christopher Taylor’s trial (Photo by John Anderson)
The trial of Austin Police Officer Christopher Taylor, accused of murdering Black and Latino Austinite Mike Ramos while on-duty, will resume Oct. 16 – but it may not resume in Travis County.
Judge Dayna Blazey set the new trial date, without objection from the state or defense counsel, at a June 7 hearing, which was the first time attorneys had met to discuss the case following Blazey’s May 26 decision to declare a mistrial in the high profile case. State prosecutors said they were ready to restart the trial in August, but Blazey did not want to set the trial, which is expected to last four weeks, during the summer months because witnesses and potential jurors may be traveling; another factor for the October start date was that Taylor’s defense attorneys Ken Ervin and Doug O’Connell have another trial set to start Sept. 11.
When the new trial begins, the court will bring in three panels of 100 potential jurors (who will not answer questions beforehand, as potential jurors did in the prior attempt at seating a jury) to give attorneys and the court a better chance of seating the required 12 jurors and two alternates. Attorneys will be given two hours to question potential jurors and allotted 10 strikes they can use to eliminate jurors they think would not be able to render impartial judgment in the case.
After the new Taylor trial date and jury selection terms were agreed to, Taylor’s defense counsel announced their intention to file a motion by June 16, formally requesting the trial be moved out of Travis County. Once the motion is filed, state prosecutors will have until July 14 to respond to the venue change arguments put forth by the defense. But Blazey acknowledged that timing was tentative and subject to change based on when the motion is filed and how comprehensive it is. A venue change would likely have dramatic implications for the trial and would join a short list of cases that were moved out of Travis County. At the hearing, O’Connell and Travis County Special Prosecutor Gary Cobb – both of whom have deep experience trying cases in the county – could only think of three occurrences in which a trial was moved, once in 1977 and twice in 1993.
Travis County Assistant District Attorney Holly Taylor also said that the state intends to ask Blazey to issue a “limited” gag order in the case that would limit the statements attorneys could make about the case outside of the courtroom, because it is the state’s position that defense counsel are “actively making statements that … potentially taint the jury pool” while preparing to file a change-of-venue request. “We’ve taken a preliminary inventory of social media posts and public statements made by defense counsel in which they pretty consistently denigrate the office of the District Attorney and … expressly allege corruption on the part of the office,” Holly Taylor said, before Ervin interjected saying that the state should file their motion so the defense could review and respond. The motion had not been filed before our deadline, but Holly Taylor described it as “narrowly tailored” to address the specific issue she highlighted.
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